Nopalera Opens LA Pop-Up, Launches Personal Care Products That Can Live In Hotels And Restaurants

Not coincidently timed with Hispanic Heritage Month, Nopalera is kicking off two initiatives that could have long-term ramifications for the Latina-owned bath and body care brand: a pop-up store in Los Angeles and its first products not in bar form.

Situated at the heart of the Silver Lake neighborhood, the store gives Nopalera a chance to establish a template for possible future locations, boost awareness in a city that’s already a hotspot for its customers and promote its new products. Along with the 500-square-foot store, the new products—$24 Cactus Shower Gel and $34 Cactus Cream—could help position the brand as an Aesop of sorts for Mexican-centered personal care.

“The idea is to go down the path of placing high aesthetic, intelligently designed products into hotels and restaurants,” says Sandra Velasquez, CEO and founder of Nopalera. “Think about how every brand has a product that you don’t throw away. There’s a lot of opportunity given the brand.”

Nopalera’s 500-square-foot Los Angeles pop-up is located at 3118 Sunset Blvd. The brand worked with the agency Front Row to envision the store, and Priscilla Camacho, its VP of sales, spearheaded its design. In the pop-up, Latina-owned Nopalera carries merchandise from other Latinx entrepreneurs along with its own. Amanda Lopez

Sephora, where Nopalera isn’t sold, at least not yet, suggested the brand develop custom clean fragrances for its products to keep people entranced with them. Cactus Shower Gel and Cactus Cream have a scent inspired by copal, a resin from the Protium copal tree native to Mexico and Central America that was incorporated in ancient Mesoamerican ceremonies.

Velasquez, a 47-year-old New York-based Mexican American who grew up in San Diego, encountered copal when she was traveling through Mexico and Guatemala as a 20-year-old. “I literally bought bags of it and have slowly burned it for 27 years. It’s smoky, it’s perfume-y, it smells profound. It’s how frankincense and myrrh smell. It has almost a religious scent to it,” she says. “That was the hardest thing to get right because we didn’t want to use real copal because we don’t want to damage the world. We had to recreate it.”

Containing amber and vanilla notes, the scent is intended to be unisex and for beauty shoppers with sophisticated taste. “My daughter who is 16 loves Sol de Janeiro and things that make her smell like a Jolly Rancher,” says Velasquez. “This is not a girly or gen Z scent. We are really trying to invite people into an elevated experience.”

“What we offer is an experience from a Mexican point of view.”

The Cactus Shower Gel and Cactus Cream formulas have prickly pear oil, a staple of Nopalera’s soaps and moisturizing bar, coupled with ingredients such as sweet almond oil, cactus flower extract and blue agave extract. To perfect their look, Nopalera enlisted Abby Haddican, its branding expert from the start. She made sure they fit in with the rest of the brand’s products and their color could suit additional products with the same scent. Cactus Shower Gel and Cactus Cream are encased in yellow aluminum bottles showcasing Nopalera’s logo of a goddess woman with three nopales or cactus paddles ascending from her head.

Nopalera expects to extend its assortment with body oil, body butter, shampoo bars and eventually deodorant. A second custom clean scent is on deck for 2024. Velasquez says, “We are guided by what our customers ask us for and hopefully these scents are really going to take off, and they will turn into other products.”

A store wasn’t initially on Nopalera’s roadmap at its launch in 2020. A mall owner who contacted the brand after its appearance on ABC television pitch competition “Shark Tank” in January prompted Velasquez to consider stores. The brand opted not to open in malls for now, but determined a store could be a good idea. It checked out available street spaces on the website Storefront and settled on a Sunset Boulevard space not too far from where Priscilla Camacho, its VP of sales, lives. It costs Nopalera $10,000 a month to rent the space, and the brand plans to occupy the space for three months.

Nopalera founder and CEO Sandra Velasquez trevor traynor

Nopelera worked with the agency Front Row to envision the store and Camacho spearheaded its design, which has walls bathed in a deep terracotta hue. “We crafted a story of being enveloped in a casita, a place of warmth, exploration and comfort,” says Irmand Trujillo, associate creative director at Front Row. “With the vibrant colors of Mexican interior design, color played a role in navigation and bringing the energy of being in an authentic home.”

Offering advice to brands executing pop-ups that could provide a blueprint for future stores, he continues, “It is always in the brand’s best interest to keep true to their brand ethos or identity codes and craft a world that both engages the consumer, but also transports them to the brand universe in a new, fresh way. Focusing on key features that are ownable, may that be colors, materials, sustainability, heritage, and blending it with the emotional aspect of the brand cements a great foundation to inform more stores.”

Front Row has assisted Nopalera on refining its brand messaging to broaden its customer base to people drawn to cultural experiences and clean beauty. It’s typical customer currently is a 35-year-old Latina residing in major cities in the United States. The brand’s tagline has shifted from “Mexican botanicals for bath and body” to “bolder body experience, a clean collection of bath and body products powered by Mexico’s nopal cactus.”

“What we stand for is to change the conversation about the value of us as a community and that includes our goods.”

“My comparison is, when you go to a sushi restaurant, are you just going for the nutrition or are you going because you want a Japanese experience?” says Velasquez. “This whole idea that beauty is just about efficacy or clinicals, that’s not how people shop. They shop off of emotion. What we offer is an experience from a Mexican point of view.”

Velasquez hasn’t decided whether to expand Nopalera’s branded store network. It’s in discussions to go into specialty beauty retailers and the conclusion of those discussions will impact its distribution strategies. Velasquez says, “Having one [store] is doable and having 20 sounds a little scary, but it comes down to what happens next year.”

This year, 60% of Nopalera’s sales come from its direct-to-consumer channel, and retail is responsible for the remainder. The brand is carried by about 500 stores. Among its stockists are Nordstrom, Free People and Credo. The brand’s appearance on “Shark Tank” lifted its DTC sales. Last year, DTC accounted for 40% of sales, and retail accounted for the remainder. Contingent on its entrance into a specialty beauty chain, Velasquez predicts sales from retailers could constitute the majority of Nopalera’s 2024 business.

Along with its pop-up opening and the launch of new products, Nopalera is out to raise awareness with an unpaid influencer program focused on about 150 Latinx leaders and content creators.

Across its distribution avenues, the brand’s 2023 sales are on pace to hit $3 million, up from $1 million in 2022. Last year, it raised $2.7 million in an oversubscribed seed round led by the firm L’Attitude Ventures. Velasquez has participated in several accelerator and mentorship programs like Credo for Change, Target Takeoff, Morgan Stanley Inclusive Ventures Lab and Bridge Mentorship, a partnership between Beauty Independent and venture capital firm True Beauty Ventures.

On top of the pop-up and new products, Nopalera aims to ramp up visibility with an unpaid influencer program. It’s sending boxes of products to 150 Latinx leaders and influencers. “This is a cultural movement that benefits all of us. What we stand for is to change the conversation about the value of us as a community and that includes our goods,” says Velasquez. “So, people are excited to participate in it because it’s not just, ‘Hey, can I send you this products?’ That’s not inspiring. We are really leveraging our mission to get people excited about this new launch.”